Bishop Kelley had no answer for Whitney Wright on Friday night. Well, that was until after Tahlequah’s 62-49 Metro Lakes Conference beatdown, when Bishop Kelley coach Jade Allison provided the best answer for Wright all evening.
“[That’s what happens] when you don’t step out in front of somebody that’s going to the paint,” Allison said.
Wright, after a dismal first-half shooting performance, dominated Class 5A No. 5 Bishop Kelley in the final 16 minutes to post a season-high 17 points in front of 850 at the TMAC. The junior guard shot 8 of 19 from the floor — 7 of 12 in the second half — while leading the 5A No. 9 Lady Tigers to their fourth straight victory.
“First half, I wasn’t hitting shots and wasn’t on sync, I guess,” Wright said. “(Tahlequah coach Chad Walker) told me to come out and get on the same page as everybody else, so I just told myself, ‘forget all the missed shots in the (first) half and start driving in.’”
And that’s exactly what she did.
Wright blew past every Bishop Kelley defender that guarded her and made a living at the rim in the second half.
“That’s what is working best,” Walker said. “We try to run some high-low with Casey (Beaston) and Whitney, and Whitney has the green light to drive, if she wants to.”
None of Wright’s ventures to the glass were more meaningful than the one that resulted in buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter, which bumped Tahlequah’s advantage to 47-35 at the time.
“It just upped our morale even more than we already were, especially this game,” said Wright, who also exerted herself on the glass, too, grabbing six rebounds with five coming on the offensive end.
“It being our first home game [since mid December] and being back, it boosted us a lot.”
Bishop Kelley (11-8, 5-4 Metro Lakes Conference) would work quickly to shrink Tahlequah’s lead to eight (47-39) on Seana Stoia’s rebound and putback with seven minutes left in the game. However, on Tahlequah’s next trip down the floor, Maegan Blevins buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Lady Tigers’ a double-digit cushion that it would not relinquish.
“We could never get a run started,” said Allison, whose club shot 15 of 42 (35.7 percent) from the field to go along with 22 turnovers. “We did not play well. Tahlequah did.”
Seemingly, every time Bishop Kelley tried to make a charge at Tahlequah, the Lady Tigers (12-7, 7-2) responded with a crushing blow — on more than just one occasion.
“We’ve had that answer for five games in a row,” Walker said. “The girls know their shots are going in. And like I said when our shots weren’t falling at the beginning of the season, ‘it’ll come.’ We don’t want to click until the end of January, and now we’re clicking at the end of January.”
End of January? Beginning of February? Same thing.
Regardless, Tahlequah turned in a signature performance less than a week before playoff pairings are released.
“Huge,” Wright said of the magnitude of the victory. “It’s our biggest rival, and it’s so great to beat them.
“It should put us up at the No. 5 spot now, and that’s exciting for us because it was a downer for us being pushed back to No. 9. Now that we’re back up, it feels good.”
Allison — whose club seemed to be a lock to host a regional tournament before losing to 5A No. 10 Collinsville and Tahlequah this week — seemed confident that Tahlequah would now land a hosting gig during the regional round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
“Tahlequah did everything they needed to do to solidify a really good spot for regionals,” said Allison, whose team was led by Stoia’s 18 points.
In a game that featured five lead changes and three ties early on, Tahlequah found a way to pummel Bishop Kelley despite not getting to the free-throw line. The Lady Tigers didn’t attempt a single foul shot until Wright stepped to the line with 3:35 left in the game.
“We’re hitting our shots,” said Walker, whose team was 26 of 67 (38.8 percent) from the floor.
Alissa Hadley, who went 4 of 12 from the floor, was Tahlequah’s only other scorer in double figures with 11 points. Randee O’Donnell, to go along with four assists and three rebounds, tallied nine points.
On top of Blevins’ six points off the bench, Tahlequah reserves, Paige Carnes (six points) and Lindsay Wade (seven points), provided key minutes while helping the Lady Tigers’ bench outscore Bishop Kelley’s reserves, 19-5.
“I like our rotation,” said Walker, whose team tallied more assists (11) than turnovers (eight). “Everything, right now, it’s working great. I like the way we’re rotating our girls in. Paige came in and did a good job, but I really liked Reagan Clark. She came in and muscled around and got some loose balls, and that’ what we need.”
Tahlequah (girls) 62, Bishop Kelley 49
BK 15 6 14 14 -- 49
Tah 20 9 18 15 -- 62
BK (11-8, 5-4): Seana Stoia 18, Collins 8, Schulz 7, Stephens 6, McCorkle 5, McKenzie 3, Caruso 2.
Tahlequah (12-7, 7-2): Whitney Wright 17, Alissa Hadley 11, Randee O’Donnell 9, Lindsay Wade 7, Blevins 6, Carnes 6, Beaston 4, Girdner 2.